Community Life Survey

online survey graph

This chart represents the ages of attending church members across Victoria and Tasmania

EMMET O’CUANA

For the fifth year running, synod operations has canvassed congregations in Victoria and Tasmania inviting submissions for two online surveys. The 2015 Financial Return and the Community Life surveys were designed to give insight on the life of the synod from a grassroots perspective. The online survey committee includes representatives from Presbytery Ministry Administration (PMA) as well as synod operations staff from IT, Accounts and Communications.

Director of Communications and Media Services Penny Mulvey said the committee drafted new questions to capture the experience of Uniting Church members.

“The synod has been through a turbulent few years, with reviews of processes and consolidation of assets and services,” Ms Mulvey said.

“This is why it is important to stress participation in the online survey for church representatives – it gives us insight into the breadth of mission and ministry across the congregational life of the synod.”

One of the pressing concerns for most traditional major religions is declining numbers of attendees. In part this is due to the break-up of established communities, with families and young people travelling for work, be it interstate or even abroad. The knock-on effects have been rapid and a source of some distress for church members responsible for the maintaining of expensive properties. How can churches today become the centre of community life, when the nature of community is shifting?

The survey asked respondents to list the age brackets of congregation members. Unsurprisingly, 82 per cent of reported regular church attendees were aged over 50. In sharp contrast to the ageing church population, 43 per cent of congregations participating in the life of their churches had members aged under five years. This could have an impact on congregations looking to run community holiday programs or after school events for families with young children, as well as the celebration of sacraments like baptism.

One of the main strategies of not-for-profits and religious groups in the 21st century has been the adoption of online tools, such as websites and social media, to engage with audiences. The synod employs Facebook and Twitter in particular to draw attention to causes and actions that coincide with the principles of the Uniting Church.

As part of the survey, respondents were asked to indicate if they used social media. A total of 79 per cent said they did not. Interestingly, the same number reported they produce regular newsletters. It would seem the traditional means of communication are still the first employed by congregations.

Another aspect of tradition versus change is the idea of ‘new expressions of church’. Only 20 per cent of those surveyed stated they were participating in new ways of ‘doing’ church, listing activities such as ‘Monday Crafternoon’, worshipping outside, mid-week worship for those unable to attend Sunday morning and Messy Church.

New ways of doing church can also be a pragmatic response to changing circumstances as highlighted by one respondent’s comment:

“During the past 12 months we have had an extended period without a minister, during which we have drawn heavily on congregation members to play an active role in leading worship”.

The Community Life survey was also used by some to provide feedback on synod operations and the wider church itself. Not everyone was happy, and one person commented: “To submit this form I have to tick something – none of these are relevant.”

If you have any questions about the survey, or further feedback in advance of the 2016 review, please email:
emmet.ocuana@victas.uca.org.au

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